Last night, the kids and I rented The Interview online, largely out of curiosity and dislike of bullying. (And also because what other first-run movies are three people going to see for a total of $6.99?) The last thing I expected was to genuinely enjoy it and laugh all the way through. It’s not only very funny, but well-made, with some strong performances and a clever plot.
It begins with a scene from an “entertainment news” show. James Franco, as the slow-witted, overly emotive host, is interviewing Eminem in a parody of celebrity culture. (Eminem, deadpan and ridiculously self-serious, completely holds his end up. If he ever gets tired of rapping, he has a future in comedy.) Seth Rogen, as the director/producer, has some funny lines, but he underplays to balance Franco. It becomes clear that the two are heterosexual life partners, in a way that’s, oddly, played more for sweetness than for laughs.
The first section of the film establishes the characters and builds significant goodwill by being very funny without any questionable political content. It also motivates what’s coming, by showing Rogen’s dissatisfaction with the trash he creates for a living. So when the two learn that Kim Jong Un is a big fan of their show, it’s almost plausible that they’d try to score an interview with him as a way of gaining real news cred. Things get less plausible as they get mixed up with CIA plots, North Korean intrigues, and potential nuclear war, but by this point I was having too good a time to quibble.
The other standout performance is by Randall Park as Kim Jong Un. His Kim is a combination of manipulation and brutality. In order to ensure a sympathetic interview, he befriends Franco by showing his human side. And much of what he shows is (in the world of the film) true; he has to wear the mask of the god-king even if it fits badly, he constantly worries about whether he can live up to the expectations of his father, and he can’t afford ever to show any weakness to anyone. What he’s hiding (and what, of course, eventually comes out) is his willingness to oppress, torture, and kill in order to appear invulnerable.
The conflict between Rogen’s very accurate assessment of Kim and Franco’s rose-colored one is eventually resolved, with lots of dick and fart jokes thrown in for good measure. And by the end, you’ve seen all the cliches you’d expect: good guys win, bad guys are punished, lots of stuff blows up, and Franco’s idiocy turns out to be a more powerful force for good than Rogen’s competence. But getting there is a surprisingly fun ride.